Major research by The Guardian and the London School of Economics, based on interviews with people involved in last summer's riots, was published last December and concluded that policing and poverty were the main causes, and that the riots were a protest of sorts (see here).
Last night The Guardian and the Social Action and Research Foundation brought the conclusions to Salford for a debate led by a panel made up of community worker, Graham Cooper, Salford Council Leader, John Merry, Greater Manchester Police Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan, Gerry Stone from Seedley And Langworthy Trust, and Reading The Riots researcher Helen Clifton.
The most notable contribution on the causes of the riots came from Graham Cooper who was present on the day and recounted how young people had told him it was `the best day of my life'. He described the riot as "the perfect storm", coming on the back of over zealous police activity involving ASBOs, curfews and no transparency Stop and Search sweeps, with some young people being stripped down to the waist and not even given official dockets.
He described how young people from Ordsall and Lower Broughton joined together to attack the police with an `our gang is bigger than their gang' mentality. Disputing John Merry and Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan's suppositions that the riots were based on criminality, Cooper added that "this is not just about criminality, it's about disengagement…communication between young people and the police has disappeared…"
Cooper also blamed Salford's schools which five or six year's ago were well below the national average and let down young people … "They left school with nothing" he said "Where are they now? They're on the streets. Rioting!"
Both Graham Cooper, SALT's Gerry Stone and members of the audience drew attention to the hypocrisy between those `feral elites' at the top of society who seemed to be above the law – MPs fiddling expenses, City traders and bankers fiddling finances, and Rupert Murdoch and the police breaking the law – and the heavy handed justice dished out to arrested rioters…
"David Cameron came down here and had no idea of how people live" said Gerry Stone, referring to the Prime Minister's visit to SALT in the aftermath of the riot.
"Things like welfare reform seems like an ideology to attack a section of society, whereas people you are supposed to look up to are not abiding by the law" she added "You can't just condemn it [the riot] as criminality."
A criminal lawyer in the audience who had been involved in subsequent court cases surrounding the riots said that there had been "unequal treatment", almost like the normal rule of law had been suspended – and he blamed Government interference with the courts, for "the first time ever".
Even Salford Council Leader, John Merry, kind of agreed with this, saying he wished we'd got "a bunch of judges who understood Salford issues a but more".
The ethics were summed up by Graham Cooper who said that "hundreds of MPs were fiddling their expenses and only four of them got imprisoned, yet kids stealing from shops were getting six years."
Asked if there was any evidence for his assertion that the `tipping factor' for the riot in Salford was `serious criminals', Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan said it was based on conversations with police officers and members of the community but he couldn't prove it… "It was a factor" he concluded "But we'll never get to the bottom of it."
Audience members who spoke seemed to back up the original Salford Star report (see here) on the scenes around Salford Precinct… "There were no gang leaders orchestrating anything"… "People were enjoying themselves"… "It was like a party".
The Guardian's Helen Clifton, who spoke to rioters as part of the research, recounted how they all said the same thing… `We don't have a voice'…`It was the only way to express ourselves'… For her, the riots were a protest of sorts.
The Reading The Riots meeting ended by looking to the future and `positive solutions'. Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan said that the police are now involved in a community engagement programme in Ordsall… "I think it's good, but could be better."
John Merry argued that many of things Salford Council would like to do, it couldn't because the ConDem Government was stripping the city of £66million a year. He added that the Government's attack on benefit claimants and the `work for nothing' Tesco-type schemes wouldn't work and that the Council is looking to get people into apprenticeships.
Gerry Stone responded that the community sector which works with young people and adults is losing funding, and that SALT has put all its staff on redundancy notices. Graham Cooper added that young people are being paid between £30-£50 a week on work schemes – the same rate he was on thirty years ago.
A university researcher in the audience said that Salford Council's `investments' in things like MediaCityUK hadn't worked… "If you look at statistics for unemployment and everything else in Ordsall they haven't changed."
MediaCityUK and the lack of BBC jobs for Salford people came in for lots of criticism from the audience… "The important thing was to bring it here and the next priority is to work with them on the prospect of jobs" said John Merry.
"Jobs will eventually come to Salford" he added "We'll know in twenty years time if our investment has worked…"
While everyone waits twenty years for the `positive solution', one lady in the audience asked about the prospect of more riots flaring up in Salford, following the fatal police shooting of Anthony Grainger at the weekend. Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan said that it wouldn't be right to comment…
See previous related Salford Star articles...
Salford Riot Evictions - click here
Salford Conviction for BBC Car Torching - see here
Salford Riots - Blame The Parents - click here
Salford Riots - UNISON Attacks Youth Cuts - click here
Salford Riots - Hazel Blears' Office Attacked - click here
Salford Riots - by Nigel Pivaro - click here